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Communication Practices for Oil Spills: Stakeholder Engagement During Preparedness and Response

Walker, Ann Hayward, Pavia, Robert, Bostrom, Ann, Leschine, Thomas M., Starbird, Kate
Human and ecological risk assessment 2015 v.21 no.3 pp. 667-690
human health, oil spills, risk, risk communication, social networks, stakeholders
The Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill was a pivotal moment in the expression of and reporting on stakeholder risk perceptions about oil spills, response options, and safety. Public engagement through both traditional and social media was arguably much higher than in prior spills. The DWH response organization undertook a wide variety of activities to manage risks and communicate with both the general public and those directly affected, such as commercial fishers. However, these did not fully address widespread concerns about ecological and human health risks associated with dispersant use. Consequentially the DWH spill heightened awareness of persistent risk communication problems around oil spill response, and especially dispersant use. Oil spill risk research and experience suggests that institutional and operational factors inhibit engaging communities and stakeholders during oil spill preparedness and response, and that such engagement is essential for effective risk management. In this article we review and assess current oil spill preparedness and response practices for community and stakeholder engagement, including related institutional and operational constraints. This assessment suggests five example risk management practices to improve and advance risk communications during oil spill preparedness and response activities.